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COP26: Universal essential skills are needed for a universal challenge
November 24, 2021
Erica Popplewell
External Affairs Manager

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from the most recent UN Climate Change Conference, it’s that we all need to play our part in addressing the climate emergency. Whether you’re a large-scale conglomerate or a single individual, you can make a difference by changing the way you live and work. No one can opt out of this responsibility. After all, no one can opt out of the climate crisis.  

This led me to consider the role of education and skills in tackling the biggest challenge of recent generations. If the jobs that we will be doing change, are the skills that the workforce needs also going to change? How can we work together to ensure the workforce has these skills?

The transition to a lower carbon economy is already in full swing. Across the UK there are more than 410,000 jobs in low carbon businesses and their supply chains, with a turnover estimated at £42.6 billion in 2019. The value of goods and services exported by UK low carbon businesses exceeds £7 billion.

In 2020 the Government recognised this shift and launched the Green Jobs Taskforce to set the direction for the job market as we transition to a high-skill, low carbon economy. Welcoming the subsequent report, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP Minister for Energy, Clean Growth, and Climate Change, commented:

“We must focus on how we invest in the UK’s most important asset – our workforce – so that people have the right skills to deliver the net zero transition and thrive in the jobs it will create. We must ensure that green jobs are good quality, that they can be accessed by people of all backgrounds and in all parts of the country, and that workers in sectors and industries undergoing change can reapply their skills and expertise towards this new challenge.”

Organisations can consider playing a role in the transition to a low carbon economy as a way to attract the best applicants. In recent recruitment rounds, when we asked where candidates saw themselves in the future, most mentioned a role in the environment and climate change sector. It goes to show that along with the growing number of climate-related jobs comes a growing awareness of environmental issues among young people. A recent article in the Guardian stated that US College administrators say surging numbers of students are enrolled in environment-related degrees. They’re going on to advance in careers that were once considered less mainstream than pursuits like business, medicine, or law.

We don’t know what jobs the future holds. Some jobs will no longer exist – others don’t exist yet. So how can we prepare for these? A good starting point is that we know there will be a certain amount of new technical skills required. The Institute of the Motor Industry has estimated that 90,000 automotive technicians skilled in electric vehicles will be required by 2030 to service the growing number of electric cars.

But beyond these technical skills, there’s something more fundamental. They’re highly transferable, and almost everyone needs them to do almost anything. These are the eight essential skills that form the backbone of our Skills Builder Universal Framework. These skills – listening, speaking, problem solving, creativity, team building, leadership, staying positive, and aiming high – support learning, working, and wider life too.

Negotiators trying to hammer out a final agreement in Glasgow would have all been demonstrating these skills. Trailblazing businesses are putting them into action too as they develop new low carbon products. Teachers, who educate our children on the science behind the climate emergency, use them all the time. These are very different jobs, but what brings them together is a universal language of essential skills.

Tackling the climate emergency is a global mission. Everyone – from businesses, to educators, to governments – needs to play their part in collective action to reach a common goal. How this will ultimately unfold is anyone’s guess. However, a universal language of essential skills, that can adapt as needs change, must be part of the solution.

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